The United States Committee on House Administration held a field hearing Monday to examine voting rights and elections systems in Florida.
“As this subcommittee continues to travel the country, I can think of no better place than here in Florida, a state that is no stranger to having its elections become the focus of national attention," said Congresswoman and Committee Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio). She calls Florida’s election policies repressive.
“Between 2010 and 2016 the number of disenfranchised Floridians grew from 150,000 to approximately 1.68 million."
Fudge says on November 6th when more than five million voters passed an amendment allowing certain felons to have their voting rights restored, it was “a watershed moment for civil rights”. But she says the state bill lawmakers just passed to implement the amendment looks to her like another effort to suppress voters.
“They blatantly ignored the will of the Florida voters that approved the measure in a retroactive act of voter suppression. It is an act of defiance by this legislature."
Fudge also mentioned other issues she says have suppressed voters. Hanging chads, not offering bilingual voting machines and assistance and voter purging. That’s when supervisors of elections go through the registered voter log to remove people who may have died, or have moved out of the state. But she says sometimes the purge goes too far.
"From November 2008 to November 2010 the median purge rate was 0.2%. It rose to 3.6% from 2012 to 2014, and jumped to more than 7% between December 2016 to September 2018," said Fudge.
Congressman Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) raised concerns about the missed deadlines, and ballot counting issues that took place in Broward County during the 2018 gubernatorial election.
“These errors while egregious have not been determined as an intentional voter discrimination or suppression. Also the state has already taken steps to counter these problems for upcoming election cycles and are proactively working within their jurisdiction to make improvements," said Loudermilk.
Loudermilk is speaking about SB 7066 a Florida bill that is heading to Governor Ron DeSantis’ desk. The bill does a multitude of things from extending the cure deadline for defective vote-by-mail ballot signatures to allowing those ballots to be canvassed a week earlier.
However, not everyone thinks the legislature is doing enough. Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was a panel member at the hearing. He offered several other suggestions.
“One, allow same-day voter registration. Two, repeal Florida’s onerous voter registration laws. Three, standardize and fund early voting across the state of Florida. Four, universal paid postage postage for all absentee ballots. Allow ballots postmarked by election day to be counted," he said.
Gillum said he believes there should be a "balanced and equitable" elections system across the state. Loudermilk agreed but believes the state’s recently passed elections bill will fix those issues.
“I’m also encouraged by some of the information that Mr. Gillum brought up and my understanding is some of those issues are being addressed in the latest bill that recently passed, bipartisan bill that passed in the Florida legislature, and so hopefully a lot of those issues would be resolved," said Loudermilk.
That bill passed with 67 yes votes in the Florida House, and 22 in the Senate not one yes vote was from a Democrat.
The panel is traveling the country to see whether Congress should create its own elections policy. But Loudermilk says he thinks Florida is doing just fine.
“Last year in midterm elections the Latino vote doubled from the previous midterm nationwide, and that’s as an effort of many of you being out in the community. And voter registration has gone up. African American vote has increased by 10.8% so that engagement in the community is working," said Loudermilk.
But Chairwoman Fudge responded quickly.
“I know that my colleagues want to justify that everything is okay because more people voted. Because we overcome roadblocks doesn’t mean that it was okay to put roadblock there in the first place," said Fudge.
The committee plans to visit all 50 states before deciding whether a bill is needed at the national level to address statewide elections.